Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fight 'Em On The Beaches

Puerto Pollensa is not going down without a fight. You wouldn't expect anything else. The bell is due to sound on the end of the four-year bout and, punch-drunk, they're still at it.

If it's May, it is time for the quadrennial elections and also for the annual kerfuffle surrounding Puerto Pollensa's beaches. All you need to know by way of background to this is that each year the town hall manages not to get the contract sorted out for the umbrellas and sunbeds in time for the season. True to form, it has happened again this year.

In an act of altruism, the neighbourhood association in the port has taken on the task. But not everyone has been happy, including the company that is meant to be getting the contract, while it would not be a matter of town hall affairs in the port were Pepe Garcia and the Alternativa not to have its say.

Garcia, who is standing for mayor, suggested that there might be some financial shenanigans. From a report I read, it seemed as though he was levelling this charge at the neighbourhood association, a most unwise thing to do given that he would hope its members might support him.

The association seemed to read it as I had and said it would consider whether it had been defamed. Garcia insisted that he hadn't meant the association but the town hall, but he may suffer a loss of votes because of the misunderstanding. Which goes to prove that beaches, and their management, are not something to be trifled with. Nor are their local politics and local turf wars.

Other towns have their issues with the management of beaches. I shall not identify the town or the beach, but the following example is indicative of the potentially lucrative business of being awarded with the concessions for beach management and of how the "system" can operate.

One particular lot on the beach in question had, the relevant town hall's inspectorate was to discover midway through the summer, too many sunbeds and umbrellas. The company with the concession was duly fined. Was it unhappy? Not really; too many sunbeds and a consequent fine were part of the "system".

When the tenders were put out for the lots on the beach, excessive bids were lodged as a means of securing the concession. The town hall was more than happy with this; of course it was. The winning bidder then went ahead and put out more sunbeds than it should have. More revenue for the town hall coffers; this time through a fine. The concessionaire was still not unhappy. Yes, it had paid more than it should have done and yes, it was fined, but it was still making money. More in fact than it should have been making. One imagines the fines and the excessive bid were taken into account in the business plan.

It wasn't as though the town hall ordered the removal of the offending sunbeds. No, they were allowed to stay. And why do you think that was?

This "game" demonstrates how the process of beach management can and does operate. In this particular instance, however, there was a twist to the story, because local people, fed up with the sheer volume of sunbeds, took action. It should be remembered that beaches are public spaces. They belong to the Spanish state, and ordinary members of the public are entitled to use them without the space being over-invaded by money-making ventures.

What then happened was that the town hall itself faced a fine for allowing the situation to come to pass. Our old friends the Costas authority may usually trample across dunes in heavy boots looking for illegal buildings, but it does also have the final say-so when it comes to what goes on on the beaches.

As a result, the concessionaire was presented with a situation that hadn't been bargained for; the government's fine to the town hall being passed on. But even more was to come. A concessionaire, and there was more than one, suffered from having its sunbeds slashed. Over 500 were wrecked, and the cost of repair was put at 40 grand.

Which all goes to show that management of the beaches and sunbeds is far from being as gentile a past-time as building sandcastles. What's been happening in Puerto Pollensa is positively serene compared with what can happen elsewhere. Fights on beaches, and kicking sand in faces.

Any comments to please.

No comments: